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Grant Thornton

Sandy Cowan

Grant Thornton is a corporate member of the CIArb.  


Sandy Cowan, Director of Forensic and Investigations Services, outlines his team's work, the firm's ethos and provides an overview of some industry trends they are witnessing.


Tell us about more about Grant Thornton’s advisory business, in particular the forensic and investigation side where your dispute resolution services sits.

Our UK Forensic team comprises over 110 people, including 8 partners and 5 directors with expertise in disputes, investigations and financial crime and digital forensics. Our UK Forensic team is part of a global Forensic community of over 400 specialists in 39 countries including Asia, the Americas and EMEA with over 70 expert witnesses around the globe. 

Our disputes experts specialise in acting as expert witnesses providing independent evidence to parties and tribunals on accounting, financial and valuations matters, including on the quantum of damages. We are well versed in appearing before arbitral tribunals and national courts, and regularly act on some of the largest ongoing cases. We have acted on cases in jurisdictions all around the world, including under differing laws and procedural rules and with disputed amounts in the billions of dollars on behalf of individuals, businesses, governments and regulators. Overall, our disputes team have been expert witnesses on claims worth a total of over $100 billion and have given evidence over 250 times.

What interesting developments are you seeing across the various industries in which you operate?  

We are seeing an increasing number of cases proceeding through a court system in order to enforce an award. Where an arbitration award is obtained, it is important that a strategy is in place to ensure enforcement and to recover assets to satisfy that award. Often there will be enforcement challenges, for example, the international elements of modern business mean that assets maybe held through off-shore structures, or a party may be seeking to enforce an award against a State. It is therefore important to ensure that there is an effective enforcement strategy in place so that the claimant is not left with a worthless or unenforceable victory. 

There are number of routes available to pursue effective recovery of assets. Such routes traditionally include obtaining freezing orders. However, there are more effective alternative routes available including the appointment of the Insolvency Practitioner. IPs can act as Liquidators, Trustees in Bankruptcy or as Court Appointed Receivers over specific assets. Such angles are often underutilised, but can be highly effective in securing recoveries.

We are currently engaged on a number of cases where we are assisting with the enforcement of arbitration awards through the courts. A successful outcome depends upon the approach taken at an earlier stage. We have seen certain cases where no steps were taken to enforce an award for 12 months, which has limited the ability to recover assets. However, in some cases an effective and proactive approach to enforcements means assets have been recovered and preserved in order to satisfy the claim. It is vital that creditors take a proactive approach to ensuring they recover assets. 

Our expertise in this area is demonstrated by Grant Thornton being recently named as Asset Recovery Experts Firm of the Year 2017.

In which industry are you seeing arbitration use most as a tool for dispute resolution?

The majority of our arbitration matters over the past few years have been in the oil and gas, energy, and infrastructure/construction sectors. For example one of the longest-running arbitrations we have been involved in recently was the ICSID arbitration Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited v. Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited (ARB/10/20) relating to the financing of a power station in Tanzania. The request for arbitration was filed in started in 2009, we became involved in 2012 and an award was issued in 2016 (an appeal is currently pending). One of our largest cases in 2016 was an LCIA arbitration between the Cayman owner of a semi-submersible oil rig and an Italian oil and gas company where the owner brought a claim against the Italian charterer for US$90m for repudiatory breach. In recent years, we have also acted on several construction disputes throughout the Middle East, and we expect arbitration to take an even greater role as a preferred method of dispute resolution in this area. 

We believe that this is comparable to what is happening in the market. ICSID has provided statistics for cases registered in 2016 by economic sector: Oil, Gas and Mining covers 25% of cases, Electric Power & Other Energy making up 17% and Construction 7%. 

Looking to the future, we are also seeing a rise in the number of enquiries in other sectors, notably TMT, which will be the topic of our next arbitration seminar in November.

How would you describe your firm’s corporate culture?

We at Grant Thornton have a distinctive culture based on collaboration, responsibility and excellence. We create honest relationships, we own our actions and we never get complacent. We respect our people and we aim to create opportunities for all regardless of background. In particular, we are proud to have been recognised this year for our significant action to improve social mobility in the workplace. These values are important to us and we believe they make a real difference to the experience of our people and our clients.

Grant Thornton is the first major professional services firm in the UK to work within a shared enterprise model. Shared enterprise promotes more empowered, agile teams through three key areas: sharing ideas, sharing responsibility and sharing reward. Our people have a real opportunity to be involved in the growth of the firm through this initiative. We have greater senior involvement than some competitors in our client assignments, and the feedback we receive from our clients – that our partners are approachable and proactive, supports this.

What attracted you to sign up for corporate membership and what would you most like to get out of it?

As Corporate members of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, we are now part of a global network of like-minded people who are committed to seeing arbitration used as a successful dispute resolution mechanism. We are also attracted to the Institute’s top quality training and seminars. They provide an opportunity to the more junior members of our team to complement their skills and become recognised arbitration specialists. We look forward to plenty of interactions with fellow associates and members of CIArb in the months and years to come.

If your organisation is interested in Corporate Membership, please email or call Owen Brigden on t +44 (0)20 7421 7469.